The effective use of mobile technology brings us closer to personalized learning more than ever before, resulting in offering the right learning resources, training, and performance aids to the right person at the right time and place. The true potential of mobile learning should not be merely described as learning content delivered or accessed on a mobile device. It should be viewed as a way to augment the learner by providing either learning content or support information. Mobile learning should also not be merely viewed as a replacement, an alternative, or as a new flavor of existing education or training delivery methods. It should be thought of as a complementary way to augment or enhance environments that already support learning.
Definition & Perspectives
Both the learners and devices should be considered in order to provide a more flexible view of mLearning. Unlike other learning technologies, mLearning is unique in that it can accommodate both formal and informal learning in collaborative or individual learning modes, and within almost any context.
Consider the following definition of mLearning:
“Leveraging ubiquitous mobile technology for the adoption or augmentation of knowledge, behaviors, or skills through education, training, or performance support.”
This definition allows for a growing number of mLearning scenarios as well as future device capabilities and types. This definition also lends itself to support both education and training in traditional learning environments and performance support scenarios.
Learning Theories for Mobile
Although mLearning design does not necessarily require new models, the mobile devices and learning theories they support are sufficiently unique and warrant special considerations during the design process. Instructional design models such as ADDIE are generally focused on helping lead the designer objectively without premature bias toward a particular solution. Additionally, they help with choosing the appropriate learning technology and instructional strategy. Robust ID models are intended to stand the test of time, and are agnostic to particular technologies and design strategies. However, it is not unusual for instructional designers to combine existing process models with other models, frameworks, or theories. Learning theories are critical to mLearning design because they directly inform choices of learning strategies and can ultimately influence other steps in the ID process.
Based on the work of Piaget and philosophers like Vygotsky, Constructivism is generally recognized as one of three main schools of thought in learning theory. In the past, it was underutilized in learning experience design because of limitations of the learning environment or technology. However, it is now enabled significantly by the mobile platform, occupying a potentially equal seat at the learning design table along with the two other traditionally relied on learning theory schools of thought, Cognitivism and Behaviorism.
Constructivism holds that learners “construct” knowledge and meaning from interactions with other people and their environment; meaning is therefore unique to each individual. New information is assimilated into the learner’s mental schema and filtered through existing knowledge and experiences. Constructivist learning focuses on creating appropriate learning environments with authentic representations of real challenges and tasks that learners can interact with and construct meaning from. This learning theory is especially relevant because mLearning enables learners to communicate, analyze problems, and participate in learning activities in a real world context. In fact, learners can analyze problems in real time without having to return to the classroom.
Constructivism is also often equated with informal learning. Depending on the definition of the latter, there is significant overlap, but they can be differentiated by the fact that informal learning connotes freedom of choice on the part of the learner to determine what activities they are going to engage in to meet the learning objectives; by contrast, constructivist learning environments (CLEs) may be constrained to a finite range of choices (i.e., learners “discover” the solution to a problem by examining the given options that are engineered into the system). There are no unique design considerations for mobile CLEs except that the affordances of the mobile device need to be taken into account; CLES, more than behaviorist or cognitivist experiences, really can benefit the most from mobile technology, since they are often conducted in the field, leveraging the many different data capture and communication features of mobile devices.